"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
January 14, 2013
Chasing Wacky Waterfalls
by Melissa Howell

A certain Geico radio commercial features a family trying to find creative ways to save on a family vacation. Rather than taking the kids to an amusement park, which can “cost a fortune,” the parents in the commercial get creative.

“To save some money we thought, ‘Hey, let’s bring the amusement park to us!’” says the mom.

“Step right up, step right up young man!” bellows the dad. “Are you ready to ride the wacky waterfall?”

“That’s just the bathtub with the shower head running,” one of the not-even-remotely-amused children retorts.

“Nope it’s the wacky waterfall!”

“It’s the shower, dad.”


And subsequently, with what I am fairly certain was nothing short of the utmost love and admiration, my husband compared me with the parents in this commercial.

I took it and wore it like a badge of honor.

"Perhaps," I replied. "But the difference is our children still believe in wacky waterfalls."

I liken wacky waterfalls to the magical, essential and ever-fleeting part of childhood known as imagination. And I have worked diligently to lay a solid foundation for my kiddos that requires them to use their imaginations, for I not only believe it is of great importance to their early years, but will also help them throughout their lives.

Take, for example, one very cold and snowy day last winter. It started coming down on a Thursday evening and snowed clear through Saturday morning, rendering a snow day from school that Friday. By Friday afternoon, it was approaching blizzard-like conditions at times and the snow was building fast. When the winds surged, the snow came down sideways and was accumulating with rapid speed. So I did what any good mother of a sound extreme northern upbringing would do: I suggested we get outside and go for a walk. Because I have one child in particular who has energy enough for the entire neighborhood and thus effectively burning it is key to my sanity. Plus, my northern-Minnesota family rule dictates that we can go outside and play until about twenty degrees below zero; after that, it just gets a bit too chilly.

So we dressed in layers and bundled and then bundled some more. My husband was working from home, allowing me to leave my toddler in his warm bed for a nap. I stepped out into the canvas of white with my three oldest, who were then 4, 6 and 8 years old.

The snow was really driving, and my 4-year-old turned whiny quicker than I could have caught a snowflake. I thought fast, dug deep in desperation, and found a wacky waterfall moment. I suggested we pretend to be a polar bear family on an arctic adventure. My kids LOVE to play pretend, and were instantly hooked on the idea. That was all it took. What I thought was going to be a 10-minute drudge through the drifts turned into a 90-minute snow adventure. During our outing, we hunted for seals, stopped to rest in snow dens, and enjoyed the occasional group polar bear huddle for warmth. We ended our walk at the park, and for some reason we had the place to ourselves. Here, the children magically transformed themselves into penguins; in all their gear, they even unintentionally gave the appearance of waddling up the steps, and then, with the greatest of ease, went flying down the slick slide on their tummies and into a waiting snow pile. And then, as children are want to do, they slipped back into the polar bear façade and created bear dens under big evergreen trees. It was fun – really fun! And it gave the added bonus of the tiring effect I was seeking to get us through what appeared to be a snowed-in weekend.

When we got home, we warmed up with stove-top hot cocoa and homemade marshmallows, my first attempt at homemade marshmallows. Then we hauled out the play forts and the kids snuggled down while I read some "Little House on the Prairie" to them. We watched a movie, then make snow ice cream after dinner.

The kids carried over the polar bear theme into the next day, and I was amused at their continued creativity. They pretended to ride the "Polar Bear Express,” have a polar bear campout where it's "easy to get a great night's sleep” (they clearly borrowed a Mattress King slogan), and called their polar bear parents ma and pa (from “Little House on the Prairie”).

Two full days of play fun, all from a desperate yet possibly inspired idea to launch the polar bear arctic adventure. Proof once again that if we parents can produce a spark of creativity to ignite their imaginations, children have what it takes to make any experience all the more magical and memorable. It sure beat days spent in front of the Xbox.

In my heart of hearts, I know my children won’t believe in arctic adventures or wacky waterfalls forever, which is why I make the effort to capitalize on it while I can.

Before it becomes just the shower, so to speak.

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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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